FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 31, 2011
Contact: David Kaplan
Kensington Citizens Appeal Board of Ed’s Park Grab
Community cites violation of rules, lack of community input, arbitrary and irrational selection process in choosing park as site for Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster middle school
Kensington, Md. – The citizens of Kensington’s Rock Creek Hills community filed an appeal with the Maryland State Board of Education, to overturn the Montgomery County school board’s April 28 decision to build a middle school complex on the site of the neighborhood’s small park. The Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association (RCHCA) cited the County Board’s “abuse of discretion” and “imprudent” actions when the Board confiscated Rock Creek Hills Park as the site of a future middle school, without any community input, notice, or adequate factual support for doing so.
In its appeal, RCHCA emphasized concerns over “the potential impact on the retirement community that was funded in part by the Housing Opportunities Commission on public land, and particularly on its residents,” referring to the Kensington Park retirement community, which stands on much of the site of the former Kensington Junior High School, adjacent to Rock Creek Hills Park.
The appeal criticized the lack of transparency in the secretive selection process, and the absence of any Rock Creek Hills residents on the Site Selection Advisory Committee (SSAC). “From the outset, the site selection process was arbitrary and unfair. There was not a single community represented from the area north of East-West Highway or east of Connecticut Avenue, where the two sites that were ultimately given first and second ranking are located.” Board of Ed member Mike Durso noted the absence of community representation when he cast the lone vote against the site selection.
The SSAC’s March 8 report on which the recommendation of Rock Creek Hills Park is based contains numerous factual errors. Most sites were mischaracterized, and evaluation criteria were not clearly defined or consistently applied. Ms. Francoise Carrier, Chair of the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission, noted in an April 27 letter to the County Board: “Our representative has stated that he did not have the opportunity to present the cost and other data that would have made for a fairer comparison among all the sites under consideration, and that his objections to conversion of parkland were ignored.” The Parks Department also noted the use of Federal Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF), via Maryland’s Program Open Space (POS), to renovate and improve the site for use as a park. The State of Maryland would “have to be made whole” for the use of these funds, and a replacement park of equivalent size and amenities created in the vicinity of the existing park, per POS.
The County Board’s standard for a middle-school site is 20 acres, while the flat terrain at Rock Creek Hills Park is less than half of that. Rock Creek Hills Park has two regulation soccer fields; Board of Ed testimony states that a middle school built on the site of the park would have room for none.
Though the County Board described Rock Creek Hills Park as “vacant”, it is a thriving center of the Rock Creek Hills community and the BCC cluster. Its soccer fields host hundreds of athletes weekly, including the State champion B-CC High School girls soccer team.
Just hours prior to the site selection vote on April 28, the County Board changed its meeting agenda to include Rock Creek Hills Park. The County Board staff’s original recommendation of another park, the Rosemary Hills/Lyttonsville Park, was dated March 8, 2011. From March 8 until the afternoon of April 28, 2011, the only site scheduled for County Board action was the Rosemary Hills/Lyttonsville Park site.
Also on April 28, Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Leggett wrote to the Local Board, requesting that “parcels used for park and recreation purposes be avoided,” and urging the Board “… to undertake an aggressive community and public input process to ensure that resident concerns are discussed and addressed before action is taken”. However, the Board disregarded Mr. Leggett’s prudent guidance when it voted only hours later to take Rock Creek Hills Park.
“The County Board’s one-day rush-to-judgment ignored many facts, was deficient in its reasoning, and failed to engage the residents who will be most impacted by its decision,” stated Mr. Sam Statland, RCHCA Vice President. “The RCHCA is requesting that the site selection decision at issue be halted immediately and be brought back to the County Board for further consideration and involvement of local communities and the Parks Department.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Contact: David Kaplan
ON THE WEB:
Friends of Rock Creek Hills Park: http://SaveRockCreekHillsPark.org
Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association: http://rchca.org
Kensington Park retirement community: http://KensingtonRetirement.com